I remember Judy Collins from the late sixties and early seventies when I was a teenager, then the songs were nice, especially if one was with a young woman, some decades later, I realize the value and beauty of the songs. Pete Seegar’s “Turn, turn, turn” describes gardening, “A time to plant, a time to reap”. For the past few years, I have used the time between Christmas and new year to spread the contents of the compost bin around the garden and dig it into the soil. The timing is largely to avoid upsetting the neighbors. At this time of year it is cold, but the ground is not yet frozen as it can be in January. I fear that performing this task in the warmer spring months might disperse odors into the surrounding houses, maybe this fear is groundless, but now it’s part of my year and I think I’m on good terms with my neighbors.
This was the first year of “hot” composting, previously a rotting wooden structure had struggled to constrain a slowly rotting pile of kitchen waste. The yield from the “open bin” usually filled a couple of buckets, so it was probably much less than fifty liters, this year I’m guessing it was more than 150 liters, which gave approx. 2 liters per square meter.
The compost had a faint, sweet smell when it came out of the bin, but there are no smells from the ground it has been spread over. Apart from kitchen and garden waste, there was a lot of windfall apples picked up whilst walking the dog and a few bags of grounds from the local coffee shop, coffee is not a bad way to start the day. My wife was none too keen to have the stuff in the house, but it was not unpleasant to work with.
Despite a layer of twigs and canes at the bottom of the composter and weekly stirrings, the lower section was cold and compacted and I doubt if any air was passing upwards from the ventilation holes in the base, so I cleaned out the bin as an appropriate start to the new year and made a resolution to be more vigorous with the stirring stick.
This year I’m going to add a scattering of wood ash to the vegetable plot before digging. I would like to tend the garden in the way it would have been looked after when the house was built in 1901 and wood ash seems to have been a traditional way of providing nutrients. At that time, gardening was organic, probably because there were few alternatives to herbivore poo and there was a lot of it around. I’ve just acquired a gardening book from that time which reveals some subtleties. Apart from frequent references to “well rotted” manure, it suggests that for some purposes the best a horse can offer is that which can be scraped off a dry sandy road. Sometimes cow poo should be collected when it has had sufficient time in the sun to reduce the moisture content. A different source suggested that well rotted farm yard manure should be applied in doses of two buckets per square yard, to my mind that suggests problems with neighbors.
Another feature of older books is the belief that digging is it’s own reward. I’m skeptical about the tale of the man who wanted the perfect garden, so he dug so deep only his shoulders were visible to the many who questioned the wisdom of his efforts. At school we were taught to “double dig” and take the soil for a ride in a wheelbarrow. I find digging satisfying, but there are limits.